The Article I Wish I Had Written
I recently saw the article, “Events: Great PR or Waste of Cash?”, written by Sara Cummings and published in
Wines & Vines (January 2013). Since I attend many large wine events, I have wrestled with the impression
that wineries are simply not getting much benefit (meaning wine sales) from their participation. I just don’t think
the events often give a fair return on cost for the brand or winery related to desired goals, as Cummings points
out in her article.
In recent years, I have seen a decreasing participation of boutique wineries in large tasting events because
their wine is simply drowned out by more famous winery names and the competition from the sheer number of
wineries pouring. This, combined with the inability to sell wine on premises at most events, leads to
disappointment. My informal poll of wineries finds that at these events consumers may sign up for mailing lists,
but when contacted by the winery after the event, rarely commit to buying wine or join the winery’s wine club.
For large events, wineries must pay a significant fee to participate, pay expenses to attend the event, and
commit to pouring a case of wine or more. The organizers of the events want as many participating wineries as
possible to create a buzz and increase their profitability, which only tends to dilute the visibility of the small,
lesser-known wineries. It would appear that those who benefit most from many large privately sponsored wine
events are the organizers who operate on the falsely perceived premise that wineries benefit.
Cummings points out that these events fail to generate significant public relations buzz from invited media.
Referring to an event in Miami she said, “Everyone who attended enjoyed the event, but what was the whole
outcome. No feature articles, no splashy coverage - and as far as I know, the reputation of the wines remained
the same.” I challenge anyone to show me a significant major news release after an event such as World of
Pinot Noir or Pinot Days. Even the major wine publications give these events little mention. Large events are
not very attractive to many serious wine writers because walk-around tastings at large venues populated with
large, boisterous crowds are not conducive to meaningful conversations with winemakers and winery owners or
to the serious tasting of wines. In addition, as profit margins shrink for large events, media are being offered
less payment for expenses needed to attend.
There is no hard data to show the value of participation in major wine events for wineries, and few wineries
even try to keep track. Wineries seem to shrug it off, feeling that there just aren’t any preferable options. I
have asked several wineries off the cuff and they have said that many people seem to attend these events to
drink (often in excess) and socialize, with no intent of connecting with the wineries.
The solution, if there is any, escapes me. I believe there is merit in smaller, more focused events that offer
interest to both consumers and media. An example would be the upcoming In Pursuit of Balance events in San
Francisco and Los Angeles (www.inpursuitofbalance.com), the Garagiste Festivals
(www.californiagaragistes.com), and Pinot in the City events where a manageable number of Oregon wineries
travel to a city to pour for media and consumers at a relatively small venue (www.willamettewines.com).